The tone was set even before the Shore Conference girls tennis tournament championship contest began.
For a second straight season, Holmdel and Red Bank Catholic squared off in the title match. But with the Caseys without their top singles player, Rocine Moschella, scratched from the lineup due to illness, the Hornets had the advantage and ultimately made the most of it by scoring a 5-0 victory at The Atlantic Club on Wednesday.
“It’s exciting to win this one,” said top-seeded Holmdel’s first singles player Katie McKay, now a two-time Shore Conference Tournament champion. “We beat them earlier in the season, but it’s always tough against RBC. So we knew we’d have to step up and play hard regardless of what players we matched up against.”
To compensate for the team’s missing piece, the third-seeded Caseys shifted their senior captain, Jenna Pellegrino, the Monmouth County Tournament second singles champ, up a slot to face off with McKay. Their match turned out to be a lengthy back-and-forth battle.
Pellegrino moved away from her usually conservative game plan to start the match, a strategic alteration that helped McKay jump out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first set, which later ended 6-2.
Pellegrino eventually settled down, finding comfort on the baseline to capture the second set by an identical 6-2 mark. However, McKay proved to be too much, earning the point for the Hornets with a clean third set that resulted in a 6-0 finish.
As has been the case so far this season, the cornerstone of the Holmdel squad has been its doubles pairings, whose victories wound up clinching the Hornets’ first SCT title since 2009.
The first doubles team of Lauren Byrket and Tiffany Huang made quick work of its match with a 6-3, 6-2 showing, while the second doubles duo, Nandini Krishnaswamy and Sarah Yan, flew through its first set with ease, putting up a 6-1 mark, before winning a harder fought second set, 7-5.
“We’ve depended on our doubles teams all season,” McKay said. “Both teams have done really well and to have those wins, almost guaranteed every time out, relieves a lot of pressure from us singles players.”
With the first singles modification, RBC sophomore Collene Gilbert was moved into the mix at third singles and was outmatched, as the Hornets’ Lucy Wang earned the win, 6-0, 6-1. Holmdel’s sweep was completed when Alicia Lai cruised past Emma Giordano in straight sets, 6-4, 6-1.
“We played really well today,” said Hornets coach Chuck Chelednik. “I’m really proud of my seniors (McKay, Byrket and Huang). It’s probably the best tennis the three of them have played all year. Now we’ll move onto states and hopefully we’ll get far.”
The Hornets’ next tournament action is scheduled for Oct. 9, when they compete in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II tournament, in which Holmdel, also as the top seed, will take on the winner of No. 8 Ewing and No. 9 Spotswood following a first-round bye.